This study describes a HPLC method to determine the concentrations of acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) and salicylic acid (SA) in human stratum corneum and in plasma. The stratum corneum layers for ASA/SA analysis were removed from three patients with postherpetic hyperalgesia treated with topical and oral aspirin. Blood samples were also collected from the same patients. Tape strippings were placed in acetonitrile and sonicated for 15 min. After centrifuging, aliquots of the supernatant were injected into the chromatograph. ASA and SA from plasma samples were extracted on Isolute C8 columns. Due to interfering peaks in the tape samples, HPLC conditions were slightly different for tape and plasma samples. ASA and SA were separated on a LiChrospher 100 RP-18 column at 1 ml/min using a water-phosphate buffer (pH 2.5)-acetonitrile mobile phase (35:40:25, v/v/v). A linear response to quantities of ASA from 0.1 to 100 microg/cm2 and of SA from 0.1 to 5 microg/cm2 in tape and to quantities of ASA 0.1 to 2 microg/ml and 1 to 50 microg/ml was obtained and the recovery from tape and plasma samples was over 98%. The method is sensitive (0.1 microg/cm2) and specific enough to allow the determination of the drugs in the skin not only after topical but also after oral administration. A good sensitivity was also obtained in plasma (0.1 microg/ml) allowing study of the kinetics of ASA and SA in plasma after oral administration. Concentrations of ASA after topical administration were 100-200 times higher than after oral administration. Plasma levels of ASA and SA after oral administration were similar to those previously found. No ASA or SA were detected in plasma after topical ASA administration.